It’s been another bad few weeks for those that work in game development. Epic announced it was laying off 16% of its workforce and raising the price of Fortnite’s in-game currency. To their credit, they admitted in their statement that they had been spending more money than they’d been making for some time. A counterpoint to this admission is that workers shouldn’t suffer these consequences. Epic also announced this week that it will be laying off a sizable chunk of Bandcamp’s workforce, around 50%, a company it acquired in 2022. It looks like someone has eyes bigger than its greedy corporate belly.
Hot on the heels of this announcement came further stories about studio Team 17’s “restructuring” resulting in layoffs and the departure of CEO Michael Pattison, and that Naughty Dog is also laying off at least 25 workers at the end of October. Another emerging story is that former BioWare employees are suing for better severance after they were laid off last month. This is only a tiny slice of the constant deluge of layoffs and cutbacks that the industry is facing. So, what can you do as a regular gamer? Support your local indie devs the best way you can. Play their games, talk about them, and tell them you like what they do.
To that effect, here are the demos and games I’ve played in the last few weeks!
Another Crab’s Treasure – Demo
The first demo for the claw-clicking adventure Another Crab’s Treasure comes from the aptly named developer Aggro Crab. You play as a hermit crab heading out on an adventure to find treasure to buy back his repossessed shell. Of course, I’ve been waiting for a chance to try this out because of its crab-heavy content. We are all slowly moving towards crabdom (it’s called carcinization; look it up!), and I feel like playing a souls-like crab game featuring frequent reminders that we are all 98% microplastics is an excellent way to prepare.
The demo comprises a tutorial level to get used to the combat and skills. It also looks at one of the games’ other areas, The Expired Grove. It is difficult. It’s meant to be because, despite the silly crabbiness of it all, it is still a souls-like. There are different shells to collect with varied attributes, shell spells to grasp, and several movement mechanics to master. It’s a brightly colored world that still needs some smoothing out before its 2024 release. The biggest issues I found were in controlling and camera movement/sensitivity. I had to decrease sensitivity to 20% just so I didn’t get whiplash from any minor movement. Overall, this was a fun taster of a larger seafood platter.
The demo for Aggro Crab is available on Steam for a limited time.
Mondealy – Nintendo Switch
The world of Mondealy sees monsters and people collide when an average slacker accidentally finds the underground monster kingdom of Dargratt. The kingdom has multiple districts, a royal castle, and a load of half-animal, half-human monsters as residents. Resident layabout Michael finds himself popping between the underground world and his own, helping out the residents of both worlds and making new and slightly strange friends.
While the basic idea of Mondealy is fun, it relies too heavily on its biggest influence, Undertale. The pacing is bizarre, with Michael falling into Dargratt and seeming completely non-plussed and immediately welcomed and allowed to roam the castle and the kingdom freely. He is even given a room at the castle approximately 30 seconds after arriving. It feels rushed and clunky, with stilted dialog making it hard to engage. The game has many positive reviews, so I think this one comes down to a personality clash. If you enjoy Undertale and Furry conventions, this might be for you.
Mondealy is out now on Nintendo Switch and PC
Underground Blossom – Steam
Underground Blossom is the latest puzzling offering from Rusty Lake, a developer well known for their creep-filled puzzle games. They are responsible for the Cube Escape games and their eponymous Rusty Lake games. Their games occur in the same Rusty Lake universe and feature anthropomorphic animals, “regular” people, puzzles, and an ever-present tinge of danger and the supernatural. Underground Blossom is no different.
Hop aboard the subway train and journey through a girl’s life from baby to adult, station by station. You begin at Crib Station and are met with a severe-looking woman with a pram. As with their previous games, you navigate back and forth through scenes using arrows and have to investigate everything you see before you to make your way through the story and onto the next station. There’s a lot of back and forth as you solve one thing and have to return to previous screens to complete another; it never gets tiring. Rusty Lake has perfected the art of puzzle/escape room games by keeping the environments and chapters small, weird, and fascinating with interesting puzzles that don’t veer too far into brain-breaking anger.
Underground Blossom is out now on Steam, Android, and macOS
Garden Buddies – Nintendo Switch
This cute and cuddly garden-based mini-game collection comes from the developer JamPics, which wants to help you incorporate good mental health practices into your fun. You are a regular human who meets Mutsy, a walking, talking little apple guy. Mutsy needs your help to decorate his garden. To do this, you plant seeds which immediately grow into flowers that Mutsy runs around to collect. You then turn in flowers for decorations like stones, swings, and ponds. Improving your garden attracts more friends who will come to stay and opens up more mini-games.
The mini-games are very easy little nuggets. Some rhythm games, rock stacking, and even a little guitar hero riff exist. At the end of each in-game day, Mutsy shows you how to do Box Breathing, also known as Square Breathing, for my fellow anxiety havers. Throughout the game, he also performs affirmations and positive thinking tools. Garden Buddies is clearly for a considerably younger audience than me and poses no real challenge at all. It’s adorable, maybe a little too sentimental, and is also extremely short. The Story Mode took me about 30 minutes. However, this is a great little experience for a much younger audience and can help give the littlies a good groundwork for some early self-care.
Garden Buddies is out now on Steam and Nintendo Switch.
Harvest Island – Steam
Taking heavy inspiration from retro JRPGs, Harvest Island from YoBob Games is a farming sim with a creepier twist. Play as a frustrated older brother, having to teach his younger sister how to tend to the family farm and animals. Follow them as they do their farm chores, collect and cook ingredients, and race to collect offerings for the Gods so they don’t get angry. Yes, Harvest Island is the game everyone calls “spooky Stardew Valley.” (Seriously, check the Steam page.)
You play as Will, the put-upon older brother of Samantha, the most annoying child in the universe. As you explore the island, you gradually uncover more and more God Statues, the places you give offerings to. These statues also operate as fast travel points and save points. They allow fast travel, which is excellent because it is pretty easy to get lost looking for specific places like caves. As your adventure goes on, you uncover more and more strange things, like a hole in the ground with a weird vending machine, and increasingly creepy things begin to happen. Have you angered the Gods? Are the Gods real? If they are real, are they actually Gods? Maybe you will find out if you keep annoying your incredibly terse father about it.
The game’s UI is a tad clunky thanks to its faithfulness to ye olde JRPGs, but once you get the hang of it, it isn’t that bad. There is also a bit of a slow start, but things start becoming weird relatively soon. Harvest Island is for you if you want a longer, slower-paced, creepy mystery. It also gets bonus points for crabs.
Harvest Island is out now on Steam
- Tower defense Bish Bash Bots comes to PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch on October 19.
- Psychological horror/dating sim Slay the Princess comes to Mac, Linux, and PC on October 20.
- Point and click mystery Three Minutes to Eight comes to PC on October 23.
- Puzzle adventure MMineko’sNight Market comes to Mac, PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch on October 26.
- Rhythm game Spin Rhythm XD comes to the Nintendo Switch on October 26.
- Action-horror RPG You Will Die Here Tonight comes to PC on October 31.